by Andy Piascik
While playing professional football on two coasts, legendary defensive end Andy Robustelli won championships and earned personal accolades as a member of both the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants. Despite all of his success and opportunities to relocate, Robustelli spent almost his entire life in Stamford, Connecticut.
Andy Robustelli was born in Stamford on December 6, 1925. He was an outstanding athlete from a young age and starred in baseball and football at Stamford High School. After graduating from Stamford, Robustelli enrolled in a military academy before enlisting in the navy.
A Graduate of Arnold College in Milford
After his discharge from the navy, Robustelli enrolled at Arnold College in Milford in 1947. Founded in 1921 in New Haven as a physical education school, Arnold’s athletic teams played a competitive schedule against quality small colleges from throughout the Northeast, as well as the occasional game against a big-time school (such as the St. John’s basketball team). Despite a total enrollment of approximately 500 students, Arnold consistently defeated sports programs from much larger schools.
At Arnold, Robustelli displayed his athletic prowess in both baseball and football. He was a good enough baseball player that upon his graduation in 1951, the New York Giants offered him a contract to play for their Class A affiliate in the Tri-State League, the Knoxville Smokies. In football, Robustelli earned Little All-American honors and caught the attention of Lou DeFilipo, a scout for the Los Angeles Rams. A New Haven native who played for Hillhouse High School, Fordham University, and the NFL’s New York Giants, DeFilipo urged the Rams to draft Robustelli, which they did in the 19th round of the 1951 draft.
No one from Arnold College had ever played in the NFL and Robustelli was by no means confident of being the first. Just before he left Connecticut for the Rams training camp in the summer of 1951, he told a college classmate, “I may not even bother to unpack my bags.” Many who knew Robustelli pointed to quotes such as these as representative of Robustelli’s humility. Despite his concerns, and the fact that he had never been west of Stamford, Connecticut, Robustelli set out for the Rams training camp in California at age 25, several years older than the average rookie.
While at Arnold, Robustelli made his mark as a two-way end, but with the NFL’s rapidly evolving two-platoon system in the early 1950s Robustelli settled into the position of defensive end. After five years of near-championship misses in Los Angeles, the Rams finally won the NFL title in Robustelli’s rookie year (over the dynastic Cleveland Browns). Robustelli recovered a fumble in the third quarter and returned it 22 yards to the two-yard line to set up a touchdown that gave the Rams the lead and helped eventually secure the victory over Cleveland.
The Rams remained a competitive team during the four additional seasons Robustelli played for them, and the Stamford native also began to accumulate a number of individual honors. After the 1953 season, for example, Robustelli was named a first-team all-pro and played in the Pro Bowl (the NFL’s all-star game). It was one of six times he earned the honor.
Defensive End for the New York Giants
After the birth of one of his nine children, Robustelli had a dispute with Rams’ head coach, Sid Gillman, after Gillman refused to allow him extra time with his family before reporting to training camp. The result was a one-sided trade that saw Robustelli join the New York Giants. The Giants of the Robustelli era were one of the most popular and beloved teams in New York sports history and played at a time when pro football began emerging as one of the country’s most popular spectator sports.
All told, New York won six conference championships in Robustelli’s nine years there, with their most-celebrated achievement being the 1956 NFL championship in Robustelli’s first year with the team. Interestingly enough, one of Robustelli’s Giant teammates during the last four years of his career was Allan Webb, a graduate of Arnold by way of Ansonia High School. The two are the only two men from Arnold to play in the NFL. (The school closed in 1953.)
Robustelli lived in Stamford throughout his playing career, other than during the regular season of the five years he played in Los Angeles. He earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, three years before going to work in the Giants’ front office. He remained a fixture in the Stamford community, however, established businesses there, and was a regular at local athletic banquets. He died in Stamford in 2011 at the age of 85.
Bridgeport native Andy Piascik is an award-winning author who has written for many publications and websites over the last four decades. He is also the author of two books.